Comprehensive study proves solar customers don’t hurt non-solar ones

A new report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center (EARPC) that reviewed 16 recent state-level analyses of the value of solar concludes that having solar customers on your grid does not have a negative effect on non-solar ratepayers.

As debates over solar’s value rage in states across the country, EARPC’s “Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power For Consumers and Society” sheds light on what many solar advocates have long argued: that individuals and businesses that decide to install solar provide more benefits to the grid and society than they take in the form of net-metering.

To date, at least 16 states have reviewed the question of whether having solar customers in a state burdens non-solar customers with excessive costs of infrastructure upkeep. EARPC’s analysis shows that the argument, often put forth by utilities trying to limit solar’s growth, is false. This analysis comes at a critical juncture for the solar industry, as rate design is currently a hot topic in almost every state.

In the third quarter of 2016 alone, 42 states and the District of Columbia considered making significant changes to rate design and net-metering policies, ranging from increased fixed charges on solar customers to altering net-metering to solar’s detriment. These moves often come despite state-level studies that disprove utilities’ cost-shift argument.

For example, Nevada has commissioned two ‘value of solar’ studies since 2014, both of which showed solar customers provide an overall net benefit to non-solar ratepayers in the state. Nevertheless, the state introduced draconian net-metering changes that crushed the state’s DG solar market. However, these radical changes have been put on hold while a third study — commissioned this year — is completed.

In Maine, a study showed that solar customers could save non-solar ratepayers $775 million in savings over a 20-year period. But at Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s insistence, the study was shelved and a new one commissioned, while LePage proposed phasing out net-metering completely in a short period of time.

EARPC notes that “net metering has been critical to solar energy’s rapid expansion in the United States” and argues that “policy-makers should continue net-metering policies.” Among its recommendations are:

  • Lifting arbitrary caps that limit solar’s expansion in fast-growing markets;
  • Rejecting net-metering alternatives that don’t provide “full and fair compensation” to solar consumers; and
  • Ensuring all people can take advantage of net-metering policies by implementing virtual net-metering programs.